ReLocavore: Redefining "local"

A locavore moves from Wisconsin to New Hampshire and rediscovers what "local" means.


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Dirt Oven Cooking?

I caught this interesting description of Dirt Oven Cooking from Catching Fire by Richard Wrangham (not related to the Hunger Games sequel… which makes it a difficult book to find on Amazon searches.)

“…the Aranda of central Australia [way of cooking meat] involved digging a hole, filling it iwht a pile of dry wood, and topping that with large stones that did not crack when heated–often river cobblestones that had to be carried from a distance. When the stones were red-hot and fell through the fire, they were pulled out with sticks and the ashes were removed. The hot stones were then returned and covered with a layer of green leaves. Cooks liked to wrap meat in leaves to retain its juices before placing it on this layer, sometimes on top of a plant food such a roots. More green leaves and perhaps a basked mat would be laid on top, water was poured on, and some people added herbs for taste. Finally, the hole was filled with a layer of soil to retain the steam. After an hour or more–sometimes it was left overnight–the meat and vegetables would be ready and superb. The meat was laid on leave branches, carved with a stone knife, and served. The even heat and moist environment made earth ovens efficient for gelatinizing starch and other carbohydrates, and they offered effective control over the tenderness of meat. This sophisticated cooking technique doubtless increased the digestibility of the meat and plant foods” (pp124).

So, backyard pot roast anybody? Gristly beef chuck roast, fat potatoes, sweet potatoes, maybe some onions and herbs. I’d eat that.

Should I try it out in my backyard? Anybody have some river cobblestones that I could carry from a distance?

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Enough with the “bone broth”

Sorry folks, but I’m feeling overcaffinated and ranty today.

Enough with the “bone broth,” okay? It’s stock. Seriously. Bone Stock. Stock cooked to death with a little acid. Nutritionally there is almost no difference. Food people At BonAppetit and  At Epicurious, and The LA Times agree.

 

You make stock and bone broth the exact same way. Jacques Pepin, who I will offer as an authority on making stock, since he is a classically trained French chef and has received many awards for his cooking. He combines 3 lbs of chicken bones to 6 quarts water (aka 12 lbs of water, because pint’s a pound the world around), for a ratio of 1 to 4 bones to water. Add spices. Cook. Skim, etc…

To make bone broth is the exact same thing. Plus a tablespoon of vinegar.

Why does “bone broth” cost $1.00 more at the store? It’s the SAME THING. In fact, it’s less of a thing, because the manufacturer doesn’t need to add any salt to it. It should be less expensive, not more.

 


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Pig Tails Part 5: Arista

Arista is a Tuscan style pork roast with pepper, rosemary, garlic and olive oil. My father taught me how to cook this roast.

Recipes

I started cooking the pig with the bone-in loin roast. This is a tender and well-marbled cut with plenty of connective tissue and tasty bones for gnawing (See pictures below). Typically this roast is cut into pork chops, but a better way of cooking it is to roast it.

I make a paste of rosemary, black pepper, garlic, salt and olive oil, then slice into the meat diagonally across the grain at 1/2″ cuts. I stuff the cuts with the paste and tie it all up. 400F until 150F. Rest for 30 minutes. Slice. Gnaw bones.


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Pig Tales, Part 2: Cutting up a pig

Once picked up my pig, I had to figure out what I got in my delivery, and what to do cook with it. For pork and other types of meats, there seems to be no consistency in what different cuts are called. I tracked down a basic map from the Cooks Illustrated Meat Book and tried to annotate, as best as I could, the locations of my roasts. This map can help me determine the best way to prepare the roasts.

The shoulder is the area with lots of connective tissue and should be slow cooked, braised, barbecued or stewed.

The loin is the tastiest bits of pork and can be roasted, but also sliced thin or made into chops.

The belly is bacon, plain and simple. Don’t mess around with perfection.

And the leg gets smoked and becomes a ham. Or maybe prosciutto. Next time.


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Science gizmos to the rescue! 


Sam and I made salsa tonight. 12 pints from 10 lbs tomatoes, 2 lbs tomatillos, 1 lb peppers, 1lb onions and spices.

Don’t know if you know this, but I got a digital pH meter for my birthday last year. Why would anyone want a digital pH meter? Here’s why…

Because they’re awesome when canning salsa. So useful. 

Some background… Nasty microbes like botulism can’t survive at high temperatures or in acidic foods. Canning kills off the microbes with heat and seals the jar so no more microbes can come in. The acid in the food keeps any remaining microbes from breeding. 

There’s two kinds of canning, waterbath canning which uses 220°F water to kill off any microbes in the jars and to seal the contents. The second method is pressure canning whereby I use pressure to raise the boiling point and kill off any super-nasty microbes. You choose the canning method based on two factors. First, if the product contains meat or seafood, you have to pressure can because meat isn’t acidic and nasty microbes thrive in meat. Second, if the pH of the food is above 4.6 (less acidic) you have to pressure can because there isn’t enough acidity to keep the nasty microbes in check. 

There are a number of foods that have pH levels at or around 4.6, most notably tomatoes. Ripe tomatoes have a higher pH, are less acidic. With tomato products, it’s always been a guessing game as to whether I can water bath or pressure can. 

Salsa does terribly in pressure canning because the extra high temps turn the tomatoes into mush. In previous years, when I have made salsa, I have always needed to add 2 cups of lemon juice to ensure that the pH of the salsa is low enough to water bath can. 

Not any more. 
This year, I was able to use the digital pH meter and record the baseline acidity of the salsa- 4.7, just above the threshold for waterbath canning. But instead of adding two whole cups of lemon juice to ensure the pH dropped considerably, I instead was able to add lemon juice a little bit at a time and recheck the pH. The final pH of the salsa was 4.38, well with in the safe zone for waterbath canning. 

Science! And tasty salsa. 


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Hamilton Falls, Jamaica, VT

 

2016-07-26 16.44.05-1Hamilton falls was very memorable.The falls themselves are lovely and the pools are very deep and good for submersion swimming. There is also a deep grotto to the right of the falls full of smooth river stones. People would pile them up into small cairns and Pidi had a great time knocking the stones off into the water. We ran into a group of girls at summer camp and they fawned all over Pidi and Daisy, giving them pets and treats.

I slipped while playing on the rocks and, in that breath, I was convinced I had broke my foot. My shoe and foot got wedged tightly into the crevasse between two big boulders and I needed to un-velcro my shoe and use two hands to pull the shoe out from between the rocks. I lost most of my toenails, bruised up my toes very badly, but thankfully, was still able to walk. On this trip, that was the only real injury I sustained. I fed a lot of mosquitos and black flies and scraped up my legs and knees climbing up waterfalls to get a better vantage point, but those were relatively minor consequences of being out-of-doors for an extended period.

One of the Campers had a Fuji Instax camera and offered to take a picture of Pidi, Daisy and me. She snapped the picture and, just like the Polaroid pictures of old, out of the camera came an actual, physical, tangible picture. The picture was underexposed and the color was off, but the picture was still meaningful. It was a thing that captured this moment. Yes, I know everyone over 30 years old is aghast  – this is how pictures used to be! Yes, I take hundreds of digital pictures, and I share pictures with my friends and family using this site and on Facebook, etc… But this shitty picture, that I was holding in my hand, was a physical manifestation of a moment. AND, I realized, I can’t share that moment with anybody but myself. You can’t post a Polaroid to Facebook or TXT it to a friend. Somehow that made it more special. Souvenir.

After Hamilton Falls, we drove home happy, cool and well-rested. It was a really wonderful trip. I think we will go see more waterfalls in the future. Maybe not 9 waterfalls in 3 days next time…